My recent research has been focused on the North East of Scotland, examining perceptions of local speech using methods associated with perceptual dialectology.

The project – titled ‘Perceptions of North East Scottish Speech’ – explored issues of intra-regional language perceptions by addressing the following research questions:

Where does the perceived border for the ‘Doric’ dialect lie? General finding: this seems to depend on who you ask! The outer boundaries are more easily defined (as lessening in intensity closer to Elgin and Montrose), but, intra-regionally, the situation is more complicated. With regard to the ‘Doric’ label, speakers’ perceptions of where this is spoken shift on a hyperlocal basis so that different communities ‘claim’ it for their own and place themselves at the heart of their perception of the ‘Doric’-speaking North East (see the image below for an illustration of this). This is perhaps to be expected given that the label ‘Doric’ has no in-built geographic designation in the same way that we see with references to ‘Glaswegian’, ‘Dundonian’, ‘Shetland dialect’ and so on. There is a flexibility in the term ‘Doric’ which means that people can project their own ideologies about what the ‘real dialect’ might be onto the term itself (in a manner which can be either inclusive or exclusive).

Is the ‘Doric’ dialect label still culturally salient?  General finding: Yes! Even though documented linguistic studies suggest that there is dialect attrition among younger speakers in the region, the term ‘Doric’ seems to be holding fast. The study also returned evidence that the term ‘Doric’ might be advancing to the detriment of previous more regionally-specific terms such as ‘Buchan’.

Are local perceptions of speech shifting according to documented linguistic change? General finding: Previous linguistic studies in the region have proposed that younger generations are not using conservative ‘Doric’ dialect features to the same extent as older speakers and that many forms are being lost in favour of more supuralocal norms. The findings of this perceptual study particularly support this idea in the results of Garioch informants. The Garioch, with the town of Inverurie at its centre, is an area close to Aberdeen which has experienced considerable growth as a result of the expansion of the Aberdeen-focused commuter belt. Results found that youngsters in Inverurie perceive local language variation very differently to their older Garioch peers. For instance, when asked to listen to a recorded sample of an older speaker from Inverurie, the Inverurie youngsters struggled to place him with any accuracy; the older (60+) Garioch residents, on the other hand, were able to identify him as very local without much difficulty. This suggests that the linguistic situation in places like Inverurie is moving quickly. In other more remote or rural places (such as Alford and Banff), however, some youngsters appear still to be invested in more conservative varieties of North East speech and in more traditional constructions of identity.

How do perceptions of local speech relate to matters of local identity? In the course of the study, some speech communities emerged as particular targets of negative evaluations. One such instance was perceptions aimed towards speakers in Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Comments aimed at such speech communities included reports of ‘rough’ or ‘harsh’ speech. I have proposed such comments as evidence of a circular reinforcement of ideologies in which language ideologies are used a means of reinforcing social beliefs about a place and its people. This seems especially true when it is observed that, despite the town attracting so much negative attention in the perceptual tasks, informants were actually relatively poor at accurately placing a Fraserburgh speaker when they listened to one (and nor did they rate him as particularly ‘unpleasant’). Further findings suggested that traditional local identity markers such as the fisher/farmer and teuchter/toonser divisions are not particularly pertinent in the minds of most younger speakers and that such distinctions may be on their way out as their relevance to the lives of North East youngsters dwindles.